After one of the most thrilling finishes in the history of the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, Ethiopia’s Gebre Gebremariam took the Senior Men’s 12km title at Bisharat Golf Club here today. It marked a stunning comeback for the 24-year-old father-of-two whose string of World Cross individual medals from 2002 to 2004 had been followed by four fallow years.
Gebremariam, who is married to 2003 women’s World Long Course champion, Worknesh Kidane, outpunched a group of 10 contenders coming to the final climb. With a combination of strength and speed, Gebremariam made his rivals, especially Kenya’s Leonard Komon and Mathew Kisorio, pay the price of their eager front-running.
Calling on his experience, Gebremariam had been content to run a cautious race, keeping towards the back of the lead group for most of the way. But, when the critical moment arrived, he forgot about his results of recent years and kicked away, leaving Uganda’s Moses Kipsiro to take the silver and Eritrea’s Zersenay Tadese, the 2007 champion, in bronze medal position.
Although Kenya took their 22nd team title in 24 years, their failure to win an individual podium place will hurt until they have a chance to correct it at the 2010 World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz. Komon led their winning team, taking 4th place, with Kisorio 6th, Mark Kiptoo 7th and Moses Mosop 11th. The key man here was Mosop as, with both Kenya and Ethiopia scoring 28 points, the outcome was decided on the fourth and last scorer and Mosop edged out Feyisa Lilesa (12th).
Gebremariam not only succeeds his compatriot, Kenenisa Bekele, as World champion, he is now right behind him as the second most successful man since the championships began in 1973. Two medals today takes his career total to 15 medals, moving up from third place ahead of Kenya’s Paul Tergat (14 medals). Bekele, who was absent injured, has 27. On number of individual medals won, Gebremariam moves up from seventh to joint third with five, behind Bekele (13) and Tergat (6) but level with John Ngugi and Carlos Lopes.
It took a long time coming. After winning the Junior title in 2002, Gebremariam added to his collection the Senior Long Course bronze in 2003 and double silver – Long Course and Short Course – in 2004. But, in 2005, he failed to finish the Long Course race and was ninth over the Short Course. In 2006 he was 13th (Long) and 30th (Short), he missed 2007 and returned to place 17th in the Long Course in 2008.
So it was a triumph for perseverance for Gebremariam who also becomes only the second athlete after Bekele to have won World Cross individual titles at Junior and Senior level. For Kenya, the wait goes on for a first men’s Senior champion since Tergat in 1999.
Kipsiro came tantalisingly close to giving Uganda its first World Cross champion but instead had to settle for becoming the country’s third medallist – albeit its first at Senior level - after Boniface Kiprop two silvers (2003/2004) and Moses Kibet’s bronze in the Juniors here.
Gebremariam’s victory earned him US $30,000 as the individual champion, Kipsiro picked up US $15,000 for silver and Tadese, the 2007 champion who is preparing to make his marathon debut in the Flora London Marathon next month, US $10,000 for bronze.
David Powell for the IAAF